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Treasurer found guilty

THE London & Provincial Collie Club has entered its centenary year in much better health following the discovery, and subsequent successful prosecution, of their former treasurer, Miss Margaret Ashmore who, over a period of time, ran the club’s accounts into the red.

Miss Ashmore pleaded guilty at Guildford Crown Court to 25 counts of theft during her time as treasurer where judge Crocker sentenced her to 150 hours community service, ordered her to repay the club the sum of £2,941.89 and pay the costs to the Crown Prosecution Service.

Before sentencing, judge Crocker told Miss Ashmore that she had abused the trust of the club for a long time and used its money to pay her bills. He added that he could "just about justify" community service, as a custodial sentence would mean that the club would not get its money back.

The court case was the culmination of a two-year investigation by Surrey police. When Miss Ashmore became honorary treasurer in July, 1996, taking over from Mrs Gee McEntee, the London & Provincial Collie Club had a healthy bank balance of £8,120.02. Miss Ashmore held office until February, 2004 when a vote of no confidence was passed at the AGM. The balance of the club’s bank account on December 31, 2003 was £349.41 and, at its lowest point, was overdrawn to the tune of £141.63.

It was subsequently discovered that the figures entered in the ‘audited accounts’ never reflected the true state of the club’s finances, and in court Miss Ashmore pleaded guilty to five counts of false accounting after police proved that the signatures of the auditors, Messers Dawes and Collard had been forged. Miss Ashmore was, at that time, employed in the accounts department of a firm of solicitors for whom those ‘named auditors’ worked.

During her tenure as treasurer, Miss Ashmore wrote out 25 club cheques for her own benefit. These included her mortgage and credit card payments. Her barrister stated that the true amount of money stolen will never be known.

It became apparent that little or no cash taken at the 16 shows held during her time as treasurer found its way into the club’s bank account.

Current treasurer, Mrs Jan Starkey, together with other officers, and the club’s Patron, managed to put together what little information they could obtain from Miss Ashmore and the bank, and presented it to the police, who then took up the case on the club’s behalf. It was rewarding for the club to know that the police were equally determined to get to the truth, and to ensure Miss Ashmore answered the questions raised. Jan Starkey told me that when she took over, the treasurer’s box was virtually empty. There were no account books but among the few receipts was one for a gas bill, paid from the club accounts. As the L & P don’t own any property, it was evident this was paid for someone else’s benefit.

The first thing noticed was that the club’s funds totalled £31.00, and that’s when the situation came to light. None of it made sense to Mrs Starkey, nothing looked right. On her last show as treasurer, the February open show, no monies were banked by Miss Ashmore. At the 2004 championship show, Mrs Starkey banked £857, the 2005 February open show realised £665.76 and the championship show of that year saw £1,011 banked.

The amounts retained by Miss Ashmore will never be known but the police estimate that she kept 95% of all takings. What is more distressing is that the club has always been well supported by its raffles and the canteen where committee members supply the prizes and food out of their own pocket.

At the 2005 February open show, £154 was made on the raffle and the canteen raised £211. As treasurer, Miss Ashmore insisted that committee members pay for their own lunch at the club shows, the majority of which was given to her in cash. Those monies were never accounted for.

At the time when I served on the committee, Ron Chapman dedicated himself as the then treasurer to building up the club funds in their bid to attain championship show status, a dream realised in the 70s. He was as pleased as Punch when the club’s finances reached the magic sum of £1,000. He must be turning in his grave at the abuse of those monies.

Secretary Tony Foster said: "The committee are justifiably pleased that we have ridden the storm, and now have a healthy bank balance. We can now celebrate 2006 as our Centenary Year in style, and not spend too long reflecting on the fact that we so nearly didn’t make it."

He added that, under Rules A42 and A43 of the ‘Red Book’, the matter has now been referred to the Kennel Club, and "we await their response."

On the bright side, it is fitting that the club’s centenary sees former committee members Peter and Lisa Burtenshaw (Pelido) judging the championship show. Indeed they were the first husband and wife team to judge at Crufts (1994), and this year saw Lisa judging Australian Shepherds where CCs were on offer for the first time. Her choice for BOB, the blue merle, Resetar’s Am Ch Caitland Isle Take A Chance won the pastoral group and subsequently BIS.
Peter is a former secretary and chairman, and now Patron. Lisa is a former secretary and is the current President.

Lisa said: "I was greatly disappointed to learn of the club’s financial position two years ago. The treasurer’s position is one of trust, particularly for any person whose employment is in the accounts office of a firm of solicitors.

"But on a happier note, the club can now look forward to celebrating its centenary year. Peter and I are looking forward to judging the championship show where Felix Cosme will judge smooth collies and Joyce Collis will judge BIS."

Peter and Lisa have been breeding for 36 years and have owned or bred 27 UK champions in all three colours and both sexes, plus other champions abroad. The Burtenshaws have won awards for top stud dog, brood bitch and top breeders.

Lisa started her career working part-time for Judy de Casembroot’s Treetops kennels, first judged at championship show level in 1977 and now awards CCs in rough and smooth collies, border collies, beardies and, now, Australian shepherds. She says the highlight of her career was in 1982 after making up five champions.

The London and Provincial Collie Club are now financially sound and are "all systems go" as they make preparations to mark their historic landmark. A handbook has been produced to mark their celebrations.